By Michael Oliver
Welcome as we sink our teeth into Stage of Origin Game 2! A soggy Sydney ANZ Stadium may act as an equaliser or it may ignite. Either way, it’s a must win for the NSW Blues, at home now, after the Queensland Reds snatched the early advantage.
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LIVE commentary… Blues 18 Vs Maroons 8
FULL TIME! An inspirational win from the Blues. Can it be done? Can they snap up their first State of Origin series in six years?
78 mins... TRY NSW! Minichiello scores! That's the game! The series is alive! Soward converts. Video coming.
76 mins... A NSW cross kick right on the Qld line is knocked on, again, by Greg Inglis. NSW will want to wrap this up with a bow.
73 mins... NSW pressing on the Qld line...and Inglis loses the ball! Six minutes to go, dead on the Qld line, and NSW have six tackles to go. Mmm, tension. Sweet, delicious, tension.
72 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Lewis' huge hit on Cronk.
70 mins... Qld 20 metres out now after refs ruled a chasing Billy Slater had been taken out of play. This could be the defining moment of the game. BUT they spill out! Paul Gallen snatches it up for the Blues.
68 mins... Cooper Cronk gets absolutely slaughtered by Luke Lewis. Qld dashed up field and looked like they'd set up something, but nope. Video coming of that hit.
66 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Slater's take.
65 mins... The pressure's starting to tell on Qld. Thaiday, Thaiday, gotta get down on Thaiday spills the ball. Little bit of fisticuffs, but nothing to get the blood boiling.
63 mins... Billy Slater with a beautiful take. Better believe we're putting video of it up. Nobody's giving an inch.
61 mins... Midway through the second half, and it's back and forth, back and forth. Try-scorer Hopeate's off with an injury.
59 mins... Trying not to start an update with "NSW", but it's all them at the moment. Defence from sides has been tight as your favourite pair of slacks after Christmas dinner.
56 mins... NSW pressing hard, as Kurt Gidley makes a burst for the line... arrgh, but he's lost it! This is a game of inches. This could cost 'em big time.
53 mins... NSW now favourites at the Aussie TAB. They're looking sharp. Qld make a dash down field, but Thurston knocks it on.
49 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Hopoate drills a try right in the smallest inch of the corner.
49 mins... Soward converts from outwide... and lordy, lordy, you can rule a line with how straight it was.
47 mins... Hopoate's in! NSW spread the ball wide, catching Qld at sixes and sevens. The young debutant dives in the corner... and it looks good. It looks fine, even. Finely good, and goodly fine. Video coming.
45 mins... Nice bit of interplay there by NSW nine metres out from Qld's line. Grubber kick bounces off Billy Slater and goes dead in goal. Game's gonna explode any second now. I can feel it.
43 mins...VIDEO UPDATED: Billy Slater's burst.
41 mins... Beautiful break by Billy Slater. Exploded through a lazy NSW defence. Comes to naught though, as Qld lose the ball 20 metres out from the NSW line. Video coming.
40 mins... Annnd we're back.
Half-time... It's been one of those halves. One thing's for sure - both sides can complete sets of six. For a league purest, that is Christmas pudding. It really is. See you back after the break.
38 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Uate chases a kick, but it goes dead.
37 mins... This ref owns. "Get yer head down, do what I tell ya!"
36 mins... Ref tells the scrum they're "wasting their own time" by... well... wasting their own time. Love it when refs speak their mind.
35 mins... There's been a seachange in this match. NSW have suddenly realised that, yes, they CAN play footy. Qld really starting to feel it.
32 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Luke Lewis' collects and scores a beauty.
29 mins... TRY NSW! Luke Lewis collects a beautiful kick and dives in the corner. The ref upstairs likes it. There's that wakey-wakey I was talking about. Soward converts, and it's 6-8. Video coming.
29 mins... Qld are starting to feel this. They're grinding their way back into this match. Oi! NSW! Make with the wakey-wakey up-up.
28 mins... Some big hits coming in from both sides. Methinks they'll be feeling it come half time.
27 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Cameron Smith's try. Thurston converts, and it's 8-zip to the Maroons.
25 mins... TRY! Smith's does it hard and slugs it over the line. Video coming...
24 mins... Cameron Smith pushes his way over the line... they're going upstairs...
22 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Lockyer's chip, and Hopoate's collect.
21 mins... Qld looking threatening here. They're five metres out. Lockyer puts the boot up... and Hopoate collects. The young gun does well.
19 mins... The two sides try a spot of "Let's Complete Some Sets of Six". Guess who's winning? Everybody. Everybody is winning.
16 mins... VIDEO UPDATED: Soward's penalty shot bounces off the post.
13 mins... Soward has a chance to level the score, but his penalty bounces off the post and back in field.
11 mins... Lockyer's been nailed late after kicking on the fifth. He's up and about. Takes a little bit more than that to stop 'ol smooth voice.
9 mins... NSW inside the Qld 20m... but a Inglis marks a fifth-tackle bomb in goal. Video of something - ANYTHING - coming as soon as it happens.
7 mins... Back and forth, back and forth. Both sides completing their sets of six. We need some sort of "try" or "biff" or some combination of both. Try-biff? That'd be the go.
5 mins... Penalty against Thaiday for holding on a bit too long in the tackle. Too long for a kick, but NSW are making some solid ground here.
3 mins... Penalty to Qld. Paul Gallen asks if there are different rules for Queenslanders. Paul, there are plenty of things different in Qld. Thurston sneaks it inside, and it's 2-0.
Kick off... Qld kicks off. Ray Warren's on commentary. Legend.
2 minutes to kick off... National anthem time. This reminds me of the theme song from that Chris Liley series We Can Be Heroes. G'day g'day... g'day g'day....
5 minutes to kick off... 80,000 rabid fans crammed into ANZ Stadium. It's been soggy in Sydney, so who will that favour? Maroons? Blues? That inconspicuous team of water fowl hanging out on the sidelines "just cos"? Time will tell.
10 minutes to kick off... Blues captain Paul Gallen takes us through his lineup. It's a good enough side, don't get me wrong, but it's gonna have to play out of its skin not to give Qld six straight wins.
15 minutes to kick off... Qld captain Darren Lockyer takes us through the make up of the Maroons side. Little known Lockyer fact: he's got a job voicing children's audio books when he's done with league.
VENUE & TIME: ANZ Stadium - Wednesday, June 15, 8.10pm (AEST), 10.10pm (NZT)
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 91 - Maroons 48, Blues 41, Drawn 2.
LAST TIME: Game 1, May 25, 2011 - Maroons 16-12
NSW trio Michael Jennings, Brett Morris and Josh Dugan were overlooked due to injury, with Will Hopoate, Jarryd Hayne and Anthony Minichiello the respective replacements. Coach Ricky Stuart made three other changes, with Kurt Gidley, Anthony Watmough and Luke Lewis all called into battle.
Queensland will be without centre Willie Tonga but came up with a half-decent replacement. One G Inglis if you don't mind.
We have searched high and low but there is not one stat that can support a NSW win. Home ground advantage? Nup, Queensland have won four of their last five at ANZ. Recent form trends? No luck there, the Maroons are shooting for their fifth successive win over NSW and a record-improving sixth straight series victory. Last-up performance? Well, the Blues did push Queensland all the way in Game 1 but still lost after being in front with 11 to go. Sorry NSW fans, we did try. Hang on. Isn't that an ash cloud heading towards Brisbane?
For all of his 18 Origin matches, Johnathan Thurston has run out with a huge target on his chest. And apart from the odd setback, the brilliant No.7 has tormented those who set out to torment him. The really bad news for the Blues is Thurston's in rare form, even by his high standards. A runway leader in the Dally M voting, JT leads the way for try assists (17) and line breaks (20). You can also throw in leading point-scorer (124), top goalkicker (82%) and equal third top try scorer (eighth). The nearest NSW player to those stats is...well, there isn't one. Props Petero Civoniceva and Matt Scott provided Thurston and his outside men with the perfect platform in game one, eating up well over 100m each.
Paul Gallen is the heart and soul of any side he plays in. The Blues skipper will rip and tear as usual but how much extra juice will he use up playing front-row? Gal needs to play out of his skin for the home side to be any hope. Look for Jamie Soward to get more involved while Jarryd Hayne will worry the life out of the Maroons on the wing. Akuila Uate was great on debut in Brisbane and will improve further here.
Ricky Stuart has really stuck his neck out with his selection for Game 2. We haven't seen a backrow this crowded since Hoyt's started letting randy teenagers in for half-price on a Tuesday. There are six players in either the starting line-up or on the bench who regular wear the 11, 12 or 13 at club level but just two recognised props in Trent Merrin and Tim Mannah. The decision to use Paul Gallen at prop is a massive gamble but Stuart likens the risk to backing Black Caviar at the Bong Bong races.
The Blues give away plenty of size to their Queensland counterparts and have no choice but to play an up tempo game, especially around the ruck. If Stuart's bold selection policy pays off, he will be rightfully hailed a genius. But failure on a big scale could see him looking for the side exit at ANZ well before fulltime.
We keep trying to find ways for NSW to win this but at every turn the names Slater, Lockyer, Thurston and Smith flash before your eyes. The Maroons were pushed to the limit in the series opener and know they are in a real contest, but they again look to have the Blues covered for class. Queensland by 8.
NSW: Anthony Minichiello, Jarryd Hayne, Will Hopoate, Mark Gasnier, Akuila Uate, Jamie Soward, Mitchell Pearce, Paul Gallen (capt), Michael Ennis, Tim Mannah, Beau Scott, Ben Creagh, Greg Bird. Interchange: Kurt Gidley, Luke Lewis, Trent Merrin, Anthony Watmough. 18th man: Tom Learoyd-Lahrs.
QLD: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Dane Nielsen, Greg Inglis, Jharal Yow Yeh, Darren Lockyer (capt), Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva, Sam Thaiday, Ashley Harrison, Nate Myles.
Interchange: Cooper Cronk, Corey Parker, Ben Hannant, Dave Taylor. 18th man: Jacob Lillyman.